Sanctioning Domestic Violence and Protecting Victims

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's admittance into New Jersey's pretrial intervention program (PTI) at the agreement of the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office has generated a great deal of national discussion regarding offender accountability in domestic violence cases. Rice, and his wife Janay Palmer, were arrested on February 15, 2014, on charges of simple assault. While the charges against Palmer were dropped, Rice was ultimately indicted for aggravated assault, resulting in his entry into New Jersey's PTI program. Members of the media and public have expressed concern regarding whether the PTI program was an appropriate consequence for Rice, whether Rice received special treatment as an NFL star player, and whether the criminal justice system failed to hold Rice accountable for the behavior exhibited in the video of the incident.

How to most effectively sanction acts of domestic violence and how to best protect victims are perennial questions for the field. Recently, at the BWJP's conference, Strategies for System and Program Accountability with Domestic Violence Offenders, participants had the opportunity to explore the question: "What are best practices in strengthening offender accountability in domestic violence cases?" Notably, many conference faculty championed one clear strategy: collaboration! Collaboration among criminal justice agencies more effectively ensures that each intervener in the case has the relevant information required to make an appropriate decision. This greatly enhances the system's ability to assess the dangerousness of offenders, the likelihood of recidivism, and offenders' amenability to various interventions. Careful collaboration also provides more opportunities for victims to safely communicate their wishes regarding the case and improves the likelihood that the case outcome aligns with their goals. When well-coordinated, the criminal justice system sends clear messages of accountability to offenders and messages of help to victims.

The Honorable Douglas Miles, a former prosecutor who co-founded Colorado Springs' DVERT (Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team), spoke about intensive collaborations between criminal justice and community agencies that enable much more knowledgeable and effective responses to domestic violence cases. He also discussed the complicated role of judges in close community collaborations. For example, some judges don't directly participate in interagency organizing, in the belief that it's not their role, or that it compromises their impartiality. Other judges, however, believe they must get involved and be well-connected and informed about their local community so they are better prepared to respond to the complexity of domestic violence and sexual assault cases. Judge Miles also highlighted the need for ongoing practical and coordinated support for victims as their cases move through the system because of their vulnerability to intimidation by defendants. (Click image to view video clip.)

In all DV cases, effective interagency communication and collaboration allows the court to better understand the context in which the incident occurred and to impose sanctions that more effectively address the abuser's patterned behavior.

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